In the fantastic, monastic world of Jerry Brown, the talk veers toward Wittgenstein, the collapse of the Habsburg Empire and preventing the collapse of the American empire.Here is the key to Brown's new program for California. A program that is in sharp relief from the slash & burn Republican program epitomized by Wisconsin's Scott Walker:
“We’ve got to hunker down,” he says. “We’ve got to get more discipline. We don’t have a lot of time, and we’re an aging white society for the most part, and we need to get our act together.”
The shock of dark hair is gone, but Jerry Brown is still Jerry Brown. The prickliness, bluntness, questioning, calculating. That against-the-grain attitude; disdain for materialism, emptiness and politics as usual; that Jesuit-Buddhist outlook.
And yet, Jerry Brown is very different. The Howard Beale rants have become amiable riffs. Instead of tossing off insults, as when he called the Clintons the Bonnie and Clyde of American politics, he offers dry wit. He is less coiled.
“I’m very happy,” he says, adding with a grin, “I have a wife.”
In the old days, he tried to get people to accept their limits when they didn’t think there were limits; now that they’ve learned the hard way that there are, his gospel sells well.
Once, he baked in existential estrangement, opportunistically tilting at authority figures — challenging the leaders of his party and bristling at the large shadow of his charming Irish Catholic dad, Pat Brown, California’s governor in the ’60s.
He knows there were sins of arrogance. “The first time, most of the legislators were all older than me,” recalls the governor, who is trim and energetic at 72. “I was on the warpath against corruption, and the politicians took it like I was against them, which to some extent —” He trails off, then picks up: “I thought I knew a lot, but obviously 30 years later, I know a hell of a lot more.”
If the legislators approve his plan, a mix of spending cuts and tax extensions, the big test will be a referendum on it in June. If his plan passes, California could become the laboratory for how to do things right, the anti-Wisconsin. It is remarkable to watch the governors on two coasts, Brown and Andrew Cuomo, both sons of iconic liberal governors, boldly go against the grain to do what works today. They are eliminating or reforming many of their dads’ hallmark programs.
After watching Meg Whitman squander $178.5 million of her own money, Californians seem to be getting a kick out of Brown’s cheap side. With his gift for symbolism or, some say, gimmickry, he froze state hiring, banned official cellphones and barred state agencies from giving out swag — coffee mugs, hats and cups. He flies commercial, often solo, on Southwest Airlines, with a senior citizen discount.
“It’s a message,” he says. “The medium is the message.”
Was he cheap as a child? “During World War II, to get butter, we had little ration tickets,” he says. “I thought it was kind of fun.” His uncle Frank, he says, was so tight he had a pay phone in his house.